The country is in shock again in the aftermath of two mass shootings over the weekend, just 15 hours apart, that left at least 31 people dead and over 50 wounded in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
Two different American cities, the same horror wrought by senseless gun violence. When will it end? When will we do something about this quintessential American tragedy?
It begs the question: Are mass shootings a permanent fact of American life?
It sure seems that way. It feels like the rate of mass shootings in this country is accelerating at a sickening pace. That’s probably because they occur, on average, every day — at least they do this year.
That’s according to data from the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive (GVA), which tracks every mass shooting in the country. There have been a total of 255 mass shootings in the U.S. in 2019 as of Aug. 5 which was the 217th day of the year. GVA defines a mass shooting as any incident in which at least four people were shot, excluding the shooter.
This puts 2019 on pace to be the first year since 2016 with an average of more than one mass shooting a day. Just hours after the massacres in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, there were four more mass shootings—two in Chicago and one each in Memphis and Brooklyn.
By any standard or measure, this is out of control. This is an epidemic. One mass shooting is unacceptable, but one a day? This is obscene. Gun violence and mass shootings are defining American culture yet most of us sit on our hands. According to polls, the majority of Americans want stricter gun controls, but we don’t demand it. Something needs to change.
But that’s unlikely. If history is any indicator, the outrage will subside in a few days. Every time a mass shooting occurs there is a national conversation about mental health, stronger background checks for purchasing guns, banning military-style assault weapons and the like.
But then nothing happens, nothing substantive anyway.
We bury the dead and we move on. That is because there are counterarguments to all of these measures which have varying degrees of legitimacy. They are made with fervor by those who prefer the status quo and who fear a slippery slope. They argue that none of these commonsense reforms would prevent every mass shooting or make a difference in every gun assault. They are right, so we take the easy way out and do nothing. We don’t even try to stop this madness.
The counterarguments to stricter gun controls were fixed like bayonets by Monday afternoon following the weekend El Paso and Dayton shootings.
For instance, in each case, the perpetrator used an assault weapon to gun down his victims. Wouldn’t it make sense to ban these types of “military-style” weapons for civilian purposes? Clearly, they were once illegal for the public to possess.
No, not really, critics were quick to respond. It wouldn’t make that much of a difference because assault weapons are used in such a small percentage of gun homicides overall.
Less than 5 percent of all homicides in 2017 were committed with a rifle and a very small subset of those would even qualify as an assault weapon. By contrast, 89 percent of homicides are committed with a handgun. That’s the real problem, not assault weapons, so the argument goes.
Regardless, even if Congress passed a ban on assault weapons, more than 16 million would remain in circulation, according to some estimates. You couldn’t confiscate every one of them or prevent every bad guy from getting one.
So we don’t even try.